What was it like in a WWII internment camp?

Four Years in a Red Coat: The Loveday Internment Camp Diary of Miyakatsu Koike by Miyakatsu Koike

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A diary of this nature is an absolute treasure for historians, researchers, and readers with an interest in WWII. Sensitively translated from the original Japanese, it makes an important contribution to our understanding of war and internment. The diary of Mr Koike, an employee of the Yokohama Specie Bank in Java, spans the period immediately before the Pacific War; his capture and detention in the Dutch East Indies; his transportation by ship to Adelaide and internment at Loveday, South Australia; and his repatriation to Japan in 1946.

During the war, writing paper was scarce and internees were prohibited from keeping diaries. Most days, Mr Koike jotted his experiences on whatever scraps of paper came to hand. The numbered notes survived not only searches by guards but also gruelling sea voyages. Concealed inside empty macaroni boxes, they were smuggled back to Japan. For nearly thirty years they lay untouched, until the author reassembled them and published them as a diary.

The writing style is factual and concise. Each section is prefaced with a scene-setting piece that the author describes as a ‘memoir’. From the outset, Mr Koike stoically accepts his lot. His notes are informative and descriptive, perhaps written with loved ones in mind. Although the camp in Java is steamy and uncomfortable and the voyage to Australia is like hell on Earth, the tone remains light. In the early months at Loveday, he conscientiously continues his writing practice.

The turning point is 15 August 1942, the day Mr Koike’s hopes of returning to Japan in a prisoner exchange are dashed. He must come to terms with the reality that, for the rest of the war, he will remain in the distant barbed-wire camp. The frequency of his note-making drops; the entries become one-liners about the weather or the main activity of the day. Sentiments of boredom and despair creep between the lines. Men die. A minute’s silence is observed to honour their spirits. Baseball games and the shimmering stars are welcome distractions.

In translation, the diary is easy to read. The choice of words retains hints of the original language. Where necessary, explanatory footnotes enlighten the reader. The translator and editors deserve high praise for transforming this important piece of WWII history into a fine English-language publication. Diagrams, cartoons, photographs of comrades and scenes within the Loveday camp add visual elements to the text.

‘Four Years in a Red Coat’ is a rare first-hand chronicle of internment that sheds new light on Australia’s wartime history. Mr Koike’s diary, which survived despite all odds, is beautifully translated and edited.


About Debbie Terranova

I write stories of mystery, history, and adventure that will inspire readers to question accepted 'truths' and explore alternative explanations. I call this approach ‘fiction with a conscience’. While settings, historical events, and some characters may be real or based on research, the narratives and central characters are generally the creation of my imagination. I have published four novels, the latest being 'The Bootmaker of Berlin' (WWII historical fiction) released in January 2023.
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